The Railway Children of Budapest

The Gyermekvasút – A Railway Run By Children

Regular travelers on Network SouthEast my claim that they use one of these every day, but in Budapest thy really do have a railway that is run by children. The signal men, ticket sales people, platform controllers and ticket inspectors are all girls and boys from what was once the Pioneers, which was basically the pre-adolecent form of the Young Communist League. There were dozens of these railways throughout the USSR and communist eastern Europe. The trains are driven by adults, and there’s a bloke stood behind the signaling people just to make sure we don’t have an unfortunate collision, but I think the grown ups keep as low a profile as possible. (actually there’s one to one supervision, and as such it’s painfully expensive to run, so lets hope it doesn’t get shut before we get there). After the wall came down the railway got renamed “The Children’s Railway”. The 76cm gauge track winds it way a full 11 kilometers though park land on the Buda side of this double city.

On our journey to Szechenyi-hegy station at the start of the Children’s Railway, the lucky participants in our extraordinary expedition will travel up the Castle Hill Funicular Railway.

The Siklo

glance at the groovy castle

grab a #18 then a #56 tram on the other side and then catch the Fogaskereku funicular tram, hereby knows as The Cog Railway, then we will have our very own carriage to take us down the Children’s Railway.

The Cog Railway

A UNESCO World Heritage Underground Railway

After clocking off these three excellent railway attractions, not to mention a panoramic view of the city, you’d have thought the Hungarians had more than done their bit for the day to sate the rail mental members of the gang, but there’s more!. We will then make our way back across the Danube, known in these parts as the Duna, and take Line 1 to Hösök Tere station. The whole of Line 1, or the Földalatti, is a world heritage site. I’ve lost count of how many of these we’re going to be visiting, or in many cases traveling through or on. This one is the second oldest underground railway on the planet, after London. (Actually I’m still trying to work out how we fit Line 1 in, but we’ll do it somehow)

We’ll then make our way to the Central Market in order to procure 36 hours worth of provisions for the trip down to Istanbul. We’ll have a detailed shopping list ready for the exercise, which will include numerous cured meats, not least the infamous fire sausage, a range of condiments, including pickled water melon!, lashings of ginger beer which is a local specialty, and equipping ourselves with several crates of Hungary’s excellent wines, not least plenty of Tokaj at what will surely be bargain prices compared with what you have to pay for the stuff at home, and quite a few bottles of plum brandies. As such, we’ve got a minor logistical conundrum to solve on how (assuming about 15 of us) we get about 3 dozen bottles of plonk and hooch, a dozen or so loaves of bread, a good 10 kilos of meats and stuff, a few packs of butter, some fruit for breakfast, and ginger beers for everyone, the few kilometers back to the station. I am loathed to cab it, and we’ll certainly deposit the bulk of our luggage at or near the station for the day, possibly at the appropriately named Locomotive Hostel. (worth clicking on just for the sound effects) We are going to look quite a sight carrying that amount of groceries onto a tram. I’m perhaps going to have to stipulate “one Tesco’s Big Green Bag” as part of the expedition kit list.

Nagycsarnok – The Great Market Hall

The run down to Istanbul on the Ister Express, which is certain to certainly not have anything worth consuming on board, will take us via the Carpathian Mountains of Romania. We should hit Brasov at day break and be able to enjoy the morning sunlight as we travel through Sinea. We don’t have a plan for Bucharest, and frankly I’ll be delighted if we get there inside the 2 hour time gap we’ve got between our scheduled arrival and the departure of the Bosfor Ekspresi, which joins up with the Balkan Ekspresi somewhere in Bulgaria before heading down to the most Easterly point of our journey. If we do arrive in time then we might hire a squadron of taxis to take us the mile of so to Ceausescu’s Palace, which apart from being the rather crass name of a Las Vegas casino is of course now the Romanian parliamentary building. Well they couldn’t really pull it down after the effort that the entire nation had to put into building the monstrosity, or could they ?

I do have a good Romanian contact, so we may be able to arrange to be restocked with plum brandy at this point.

In the next edition, Warsaw gets snubbed, in return for a visit to a steam railway in Dresden, and extra time in Prague and at least a few hours sleep in Berlin.


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